Sikkim Government

Gangtok, Oct 15: In a suo-moto case, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has taken a significant step by issuing notices to multiple stakeholders, including the Sikkim Government, the Sikkim Urja Limited, and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), concerning the breach of the Chungthang dam.

This breach resulted in the recent catastrophic flash floods in the Himalayan state. The concerned parties are mandated to appear before the court on October 20, as part of the ongoing investigation into this environmental incident.

The NGT’s actions were prompted by the recent flash floods, which claimed the lives of seven individuals and inflicted extensive damage to the 1200 Mega Watt Sikkim Urja Teesta-III hydroelectric project at Chungthang. These floods were triggered by a glacial lake outburst flood from South Lhonak Lake during the night of October 3 and 4.

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In the wake of this incident, Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang of Sikkim pointed fingers at the previous Pawan Chamling government, alleging sub-standard work on the dam. He stated that the destruction downstream was partially due to the failure of the Teesta-III dam, emphasizing that this was a consequence of inadequate construction quality during the previous government’s tenure. Chief Minister Tamang announced that his government would initiate an inquiry into the matter.

It is crucial to note that the Teesta-III dam was commissioned in 2017, during the reign of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) government led by former Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling.

In response to Chief Minister Tamang’s allegations, the SDF party has contested the claims, asserting the need for a comprehensive forensic investigation into the Teesta-III dam’s collapse. They have also called for an investigation into whether sufficient preventive measures were taken to mitigate the risks associated with glacier lake outburst floods. P.D. Rai, the senior vice-president of the SDF, emphasized that the SDF government had actively worked to lower the water level at the lake to prevent such an incident.

The NGT’s involvement in this matter is taking place concurrently with the state government’s preparations for the establishment of a 520 Mega Watt Teesta stage IV hydropower project.

Notably, environmentalists have been consistently opposing the construction of dams in Sikkim. The Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) engaged in a 915-day demonstration from June 22, 2007, to September 27, 2009, to protest against hydropower projects in the region. Many attribute the cancellation of four hydropower projects in the Teesta basin to the persistent efforts of ACT and other like-minded organizations.